March 20, 2006

Mr. Potential-Olympic-Lebanese-Swimming-Team Coach

As I am getting my daughter out of the bath tub this evening, and into her white bathrobe, I am reminded of one of my finer moments here in Lebanon. I have quite a few, come to think of it, but this one’s one of the cherries on the cake.

That happens to be connected to this white bathrobe.
My son, when he was small, was taking swimming lessons. We figured it was a good exercise in wintertime, he’d learn a useful skill and maybe he’d pick up some team work as well. So I hauled him to swimming lessons twice a week in my neighborhood. This particular swimming pool was in an underground location, three floors down a regular apartment building, and part of a health club. It wasn’t really a big pool. Actually quite small when I think of it in retrospect, with a very low ceiling. A little dirty too. Claustrophobic people wouldn’t stand a chance in there.
So here this instructor would teach 20 or so youngsters the finer details of swimming, while the mothers and the maids were sitting on the side on plastic chairs, chatting and hoping the kids wouldn’t splash too much water and get the Clorox-loaded water onto their pant legs.
Anyway, this place was hot, small, humid, and the instructor was a yeller. He yelled all the time. Now I do not have a problem with that in general, but the place was just too confined for that. Besides, he’d give 27 instructions in one sentence. “Get out of the tub, run to the other side, get in the second line, wait till the first guy reaches the other side, jump in, do a back craw, make a turn” etc etc. My son was only 6 then, and displayed ADHD characteristics, so one instruction was as far as he would get. So he’d get out of the pool. And stand there. And stand there some more. And this instructor wouldn’t notice the poor guy shivering unless he was walking in his way. After every lesson, I’d be all uptight and nervous, and would need two beers to relax again.
Anyway, I tried that for three months, and figured that this instructor, although the ‘best in Lebanon’ I as told by all the ladies-in-waiting, was probably not the best choice for my child at that point in time. It might work for others; it did not work for him. I am explaining this in a very friendly fashion, but basically I thought the guy was an asshole, incapable of his job, and a waste of time and money. He wasn’t very expensive though.
So I shopped around. A friend of a friend of a friend knew a swimming instructor. This guy was IT. The best of the best. Couldn’t get any better. Trained the Lebanese Olympic Team (is there one?). Trained the son of Emile Lahoud (in those days there was no stigma on being the son of Emile Lahoud yet). And I don’t know what, but he was the best in town, and what’s more, he was in my part of town, so I did not have to drive too far. She gave me his number.
I call the guy. I will not repeat his name here, but I called him, and he was very friendly on the phone.
“So what’s the problem?”
“Well, I am looking for swimming lessons for my son.”
“Does he know how to swim?”Yes, he does, but he could use some help with techniques, and coordination and all that, because right now his swimming lessons…””Ah, he is taking swimming lessons?””Yes, he is.”
“And why don’t you want to continue there?”
“Well, the place is rather small and the instructor is yelling all the time, and he doesn’t really understand that..”
And I explained him all the things that this current instructor did wrong and did not understand and on and on and on. I bashed the guy.
“Very well”, he said, “Why don’t you come this Saturday to so-and-so (a health club with a swimming pool in town), and I’ll see what we can do about that.” He did not ask for my son’s old coach’s name, and besides, I did not know his name. He did not ask my name either.

So that Saturday I went to the agreed swimming pool, a very nice and fancy place, much and much better than the old crummy pool near my house, and walked down with my son. It was looking good. A fantastically clean and spacious pool! Ho could ask for more?
And who do I see? My son’s old swimming instructor! He sees me, waves, and continues to instruct the 7 or 8 potential Olympic swimmers he has in the pool.
I look around. No other instructor in site. I look puzzled. So does my son’s old swimming coach.
I climb back upon the stairs, go to the front desk, and say that I was supposed to meet so-and-so. “Do you know where he is?”
“Yes, he is downstairs, teaching swimming.”
“No, that’s the other guy. I am looking for so-and-so.”
“There is only one swimming coach here, and that is so-and-so.”

Slowly it dawned on me. My son’s old coach - the crummy, incapable bastard - and the fantastic Potential-Olympic-swimming coach were one and the same person! And here I was, basically telling the guy on the phone what an asshole he was. Needless to say I did not go down again. I think Mr. Potential-Olympic-trainer figured out that I was that bitch on the phone, and this was the end of my son’s swimming career. He can float like no other, swims faster than a rat, but there’s little grace and style.
How did this unfortunate story come to my mind? Because when my son was taking swimming lessons, I bought him this white bathrobe, for after swimming lessons. My daughter is wearing it now. No swimming lessons for her. Wouldn’t know who to call.

There are other ‘finer’ moments in my life in Beirut. So ‘fine’ in fact, that there are certain stores where I can no longer show my face. What am I saying? There are streets I try avoid crossing. Branded forever as the ‘bitchy foreigner’. But all that will be shared with you in due time. If I feel like it.


Ysbrand said...

Anybody knows why my sister left Holland? Anybody?

sarah said...

I really wish you posted his name so others looking for a coach wouldn't put their children through the same experience...I think I've found a good one at the Officer's club.